Not quite the ordeal for viewers that it is for its hapless heroine, “End of Animal” is nonetheless a slow-moving trip to nowhere that ultimately frustrates more than intrigues. Debuting director Jo Sung-Hee shows promise with his offbeat concept and desolate atmospherics, but this cipherous tale of a young woman’s travails after something happens (Judgment Day?) is likely to find few takers beyond the fest circuit.Heavily pregnant Soon-young (Lee Min-ji) is taking a cab from Seoul to her mother’s house when the driver picks up a hitcher (Park Hae-il). Latter immediately starts acting strangely, threateningly, demonstrating way too much knowledge of the other two’s lives and suggesting he’s an angel of the apocalypse. A flash of light duly occurs, after which Soon-young finds herself alone. The car is stalled in the middle of nowhere, cell phones don’t work and some invisible beast bellows and growls in the distance. Protag is by turns joined by an annoying fifth grader, a crass couple and a helpful, then creepy bicyclist — all unpleasant experiences — while the elusive rest area just up ahead never materializes. Wounded, hungry, increasingly desperate, she gets erratic walkie-talkie messages from the “angel,” who seems to know her every move. Pic is reminiscent of such recent highbrow post-apocalyptic tales as “The Road” and “Time of the Wolf” in its bleak landscapes, cryptic narrative and every-man-for-himself behaviors. But Soon-young’s occasionally tense travails stack up without leading toward any discernible point, and as she plods onward, it’s hard not to feel the audience is slogging toward no fixed destination, too. Perfs are solid, assembly for the almost entirely outdoors-shot production resourceful on modest means. Title is translated onscreen as “The End of the Animal” (meaning humanity, presumably).
A Kafa Films production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Heo Eun-Kyong. Directed, written by Jo Sung-Hee.
Camera (color, HD), Baek Moon-Soo; editor, Sung-Hee; production designers, Lee Byeong-Duk, Lee Beyong-Jun. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival (New Directors), May 3, 2011. (Also in Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 114 MIN.
Lee Min-ji, Park Hae-il, Yoo Sung-bok, Park Sae-jong, Kim Yeong-ho, Lee Min-ah.